LAHORE - Participants in a session on Effective Right to Information on Thursday demanded that the Punjab government immediately fill vacant posts of information commissioners and facilitate people in a more effective use of the right-to-information law.
The session was organised by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat).
These posts were created to provide information to people, but they have been vacant since March 2017. In the absence of information commissioners there are many hurdles in the way of enforcement of the right-to-information law.
The participants in the session reviewed the project titled “Enhancing Empowerment of Women and Minorities of South Punjab”. The project is support by USAID Small Grants and Ambassador’s Fund Programme. The session was collaborated by the Punjab Information Commission (PIC).
Earlier, Aasiya Riaz, joint director of Pildat, said the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act (PTRTIA) 2013 was considered an important landmark in the quest for transparency and accountability of public bodies. However, the law has not been effectively utilized across Punjab.
Speaking on enforcement of the right-to-information law in Punjab, Naeem Malik, deputy director of the PIC, said the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 was functional even though information commissioners’ posts were vacant. He said the Punjab Information Commission (PIC) had received 4,000 applications and it had resolved 3,600 of them.
Speaking on the right-to-information law and international and regional observations, Prof Kalimullah, former information commissioner of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), said that India had the strongest track record in leading and implementing the right to information legislation. India’s legislation on the right-to-information began in 1997, with 10 state legislatures passing right-to-information laws. This happened because of a fierce grassroots movement led by Indian peasants and farmers -- Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan -- who demanded freedom of information and transparency and linked it to their “right to live” and now their CSOs and media play a very active role in promoting this right.
Ahmed Raza Tahir, former information commissioner at the PIC, said that government employees withholding information after receiving requests from people were fined in the past.
Senior journalist Mujib-ur-Rehman Shami suggested that Pildat should propose an amendment to the Punjab right-to-information law to ensure that incumbent information commissioners continue to work on their posts until new information commissioners are appointed by the government. This would ensure that information commissioners’ posts are never vacant at the Punjab Information Commission at any time. He urged the Punjab government to increase allocation for the Punjab Information Commission.
Shami also suggested that all media houses should hold workshops on the right-to-information law for their staff to change the culture of sensationalism in the media to fact-based reporting and analysis.
Habib Akram, senior media analyst, said that immediate appointment of information commissioners should be demanded at every forum.